Leader comment: First Minister has only one card left to play

Since the First Minister announced immediately after the Brexit referendum that her government would explore all avenues for Scotland, the possibilities have narrowed to the extent that today very few options seem to remain open.

Discussions between Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon over Brexit have not produced any concessions for Scotland from the UK government. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Nicola Sturgeon confirmed formally yesterday that she wants Scotland to remain in the single market, and retain freedom of movement, in what would be a different arrangement to the Brexit negotiated for the rest of the UK. But the Westminster government also reiterated that, although the Prime Minister will look “very seriously” at Ms Sturgeon’s proposals, there will be no special deal for Scotland, with Theresa May focussed on delivering a UK-wide Brexit.

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Ms Sturgeon says that her proposals represent a “significant compromise” on the part of her government. That assessment is true if taken in the context that her ultimate objective is to achieve independence, which a special deal over Brexit would derail. But a Brexit deal would also represent a big victory for the Scottish Government, by extracting a major concession from the UK Government.

As the situation stands, however, a special deal looks increasingly unlikely. This leaves the First Minister looking at only one option: a second referendum on Scottish independence. She may have painted herself into a corner over the timing of such a move, given that opinion polls repeatedly suggest that a second referendum would produce the same result as in 2014. But without the introduction of an unforeseen, game-changing intervention, the current stalemate with Mrs May leaves the First Minister with only one card left to play.

In this game of political poker, the stakes have just gone higher.